Publication Push at Tel Burna

4 Questions for the Dig Directors of Tel Burna

Situated in the Shephelah (Judean foothills), Tel Burna is a candidate for biblical Libnah. Itzick Shai of Ariel University and Steven Ortiz of Lipscomb University direct excavations at the site. Although they canceled their 2020 season, they plan to dig in 2021.

Itzick Shai answered four questions about the pandemic’s effect on their excavation.

reconstruct vessels found in fragments

Despite not excavating in 2020, the Tel Burna team continued to work on materials at the Ariel University lab. This photo shows a step in the process of pottery restoration (to reconstruct vessels found in fragments). Archaeologists piece together the sherds, gathered in the field, to form the original vessels—like a 3D jigsaw puzzle. Photo Courtesy of Tel Burna Excavations.

(1) How did you come to the difficult decision to cancel last year’s dig season?

Itzick Shai: As it turned out, it would have been very difficult to have volunteers and staff from abroad. It also would have been problematic to have close contact and stay at the kibbutz where we usually stay (Netiv Halmed Heh). Due to the instructions from the Israeli Health Ministry, we decided that it would be better to cancel the 2020 season.

(2) Even though you did not dig in 2020, were you able to pursue research at Tel Burna in other ways?

Shai: Yes, we increased our efforts on the analysis of the stratigraphy and finds from previous years. We worked in the lab at Ariel University and with all of our staff members in Canada, the U.S.A., Germany, and the Czech Republic to gain a better understanding of the history of the site. We also set a date for the first draft of the various chapters for the first volume of our final report: May 1, 2021. Hopefully, by the end of 2021, this volume will be out for the public.

(3) How did you fill your “free” time last summer?

Shai: It was very weird. It was the first time in a decade that I have not been working in the field. Usually, in the summer I visit many excavation projects, but this year I visited only Azekah.

(4) What are your plans for the 2021 dig season?

Shai: In Israel the population has started to get the vaccine, and it seems that by April or May most of the Israelis will get it. Therefore, it seems that at least we will be able to dig with students from Ariel University and with Israeli volunteers. I also hope that by mid-June, when the excavation season at Burna begins, people from other countries will also get the vaccine and be able to join us, too.

Download the Digs 2021 ebook for additional interviews with directors whose excavations were affected by the pandemic.

If you would like to join an excavation in 2021, visit for opportunities. This page includes a description of each site, goals for the coming season, important finds from past seasons, biblical connections, and profiles of dig directors.

Not a BAS Library member yet? Join the BAS Library today.

Related reading in Bible History Daily:

Digs 2019: A Day in the Life by Robert Cargill

Digs 2018: Migration and Immigration in Ancient Israel by Robert Cargill

Digs 2017: Digging Through Time by Ellen White

Digs 2016: Passport to the Biblical World by Robin Ngo

Digs 2015: Blast from the Past by Megan Sauter

Digs 2014: Layers of Meaning by Noah Weiner

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